The war in Iraq has boosted the demand for ground-training systems,
particularly those dedicated to small-unit operations and convoy
security, officials said.
The Army program executive office for simulation, training and
instrumentation (PEO STRI) reports that, for fiscal Year 2005, it
has awarded $6.2 billion worth of contracts—an increase of
more than 10 percent from 2004, when it distributed $5.6 billion.
By comparison, in 2000, PEO STRI obligations were $500 million.
“Almost all of the new contracts are associated with the
fact that we are at war,” said deputy director Jim Blake.
“We have to be prepared for the full spectrum of combat, which
goes from individual training all the way to training large units.”
Since the war started, PEO STRI has become accustomed to receiving
urgent request for training devices. “We have done a number
of fieldings so quickly that it’s hard to fathom if you map
it to the old requirements process,” said Blake.
One example is an Apache helicopter simulator. “When we went
into Iraq, we discovered that the Apache pilots were having brownout
conditions. In 72 hours, we made the software changes and updated
all the devices so troops were able to train in brownout conditions
before they deployed to theater.” He also cited the rapid
development of urban-combat simulators that were built in shipping
containers and deployed to Iraq in a matter of months.
Blake expects PEO STRI’s role to expand as the Army reorganizes
into brigade combat teams, which means training suites will be needed
to support those teams.
An Army of modular brigades creates a host of training questions.
“Should training suites be organic to a brigade combat team,
or should it be organic to an installation?” Blake asked.
“And when the brigade gets to a theater, what does the training
environment look like? How do you build a training environment that
supports an expeditionary capability?”
Blake foresees an array of training simulations that users can
quickly customize to suit their individual needs. New simulations
will require less support staff and special hardware than legacy
The latest surge in PEO STRI’s business also is attributed
to advances in computer software and hardware. “The technology
matured at the right time when we needed it,” Blake said.
“We have a situation here where in many cases, you can’t
train with the real systems because they are too lethal or because
the ranges are too long. So we have technology that allows us to
do this in a virtual world.”
Blake also credits the Army’s management structure, which
has helped PEO STRI gain “direct access to the Army leadership
for oversight and funding,” said Blake.
However, Blake admitted that a fragmented approach to buying simulations
remain a problem in the Army. He argues that procurement would go
smoother if Army buyers consulted with experts at PEO STRI before
making purchases. He cites the issue of interoperability of different
simulations acquired by multiple organizations. “Now you’ve
spent 10 million dollars, but this thing may not plug into anything
else. So if you change your mind in a year or two, and you’d
like to have this interoperate with something else, you’re
going to have to pay for the rework.”
A program called SMART (simulation and modeling for acquisition,
requirements and training) was developed to help advise buyers on
what technologies best suit their needs and are cost-effective,
Some program managers, he said, often use private contractors to
develop trainers and simulators because the wish to have more control
over all facets of the system design and development.
However, “Army systems program managers are increasingly
using PEO STRI to satisfy their simulation requirements,”
Blake added. “One key advantage is that PEO STRI places all
emerging technologies developed on our contracts under the control
of the government, as opposed to a commercial venture.”
Military simulators, in many ways, have benefited from commercial
entertainment games. Users see spiffy graphics in commercial games,
and they demand that same level of detail in military simulations.
“Expectations of our users can vary depending on what they
see in the entertainment industry,” said Blake. “We
are constantly trying to improve the suspension of disbelief.”
Entertainment games can be an asset, he maintained. “In many
cases, people don’t know what is they want until they see
it … And the ability to go out and see these things at least
inspires them to better articulate what it is they want. We are
then faced with the task that if we build it, it’s sustainable.”
Among the largest projects now under way at PEO STRI are: